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Triggers: How Leaders Can Identify and Conquer These Behaviors

Many of us know about the importance of emotional intelligence for leadership.

The concept was made famous by journalist Daniel Goleman, and the longer term “emotional intelligence” can be found abbreviated as either EQ or EI. There are even assessments we can take to measure our EI.

While we understand the value of strong EI, we may not know what to do when we recognize gaps in our own emotional intelligence.

One response is to look for the triggers that precede breakdowns in our EI.

Once we have identified the trigger, we can develop an intentional and corrective behavior that follows the trigger.

What is a trigger?

Triggers are those things that “set us off,” activating our fight or flight responses.

Sometimes that response is appropriate, but, in work settings, the “fight or flight” response can get in the way of the work we want to accomplish.

Worse yet, when fight or flight responses are fully activated, we may treat co-workers like enemies instead of colleagues.

To identify and correct a trigger, try this process:

  1. Think of a work situation where you were “set off” inappropriately.
  2. Visualize the situation. What happened right before you got upset? How did you feel? That event or feeling was your trigger.
  3. Now, come up with an alternative response.
  4. BONUS: Tell someone about the change you want to make, and ask them to give you feedback when they see you respond to the trigger. Let them tell you how well you handled the situation.

You can clarify your response to a trigger with this formula:

When [trigger] happens, instead of [old behavior], I will [new behavior].

For example:

Let’s pretend that one co-worker really sets you off because of the rude ways they speak to you.

Once you realize that trigger, you can come up with an action plan to change your behavior, and hopefully improve your working relationship.

Using the formula above, you could try this tactic:

When a co-worker speaks rudely to me, instead of blowing up at them, I will take a breath and say, “I want to work with you on this, but I can’t do that when you speak to me that way.”

Consider this plan a small experiment. Measure your successes and make tweaks to your change in behavior. Over time, you will discover what works for you.

Further Reading

For more information on “triggers,” see the book by Marshall Goldsmith, Triggers: Creating Behavior the Lasts — Becoming the Person You Want to Be.

This guide is adapted from his work and from The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More, and Change the Way You Lead Forever by Michael Stanier.

Photo credit: © Tofuxs | Dreamstime.com

Stan Ward

Stan Ward

Dr. Stanley J. Ward is the Dean of Capstone Studies at Claremont Lincoln University, where he continues to develop CLU's unique action research model for mindfulness, dialogue, and collaboration that lead to values-based change. As dean, he also supervises graduate student action research projects in ethical leadership, social impact, and interfaith action.

Outside of academia, he is a certified 360 feedback facilitator through the Center for Creative Leadership and a certified change management practitioner through Prosci. In 2014, he founded Influence Coaching, LLC (www.coachingforinfluence.com) to provide individual and small group coaching resources that help leaders maximize their strengths, correct their liabilities, and make peace with their weaknesses, all while developing others in their organizations.
 
Dr. Ward holds a PhD in Leadership Studies, thinks fountain pens are cool, and jams on the ukulele with his family.

Claremont Core

Claremont Lincoln University

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Stan Ward

Stan Ward

Dr. Stanley J. Ward is the Dean of Capstone Studies at Claremont Lincoln University, where he continues to develop CLU's unique action research model for mindfulness, dialogue, and collaboration that lead to values-based change. As dean, he also supervises graduate student action research projects in ethical leadership, social impact, and interfaith action.

Outside of academia, he is a certified 360 feedback facilitator through the Center for Creative Leadership and a certified change management practitioner through Prosci. In 2014, he founded Influence Coaching, LLC (www.coachingforinfluence.com) to provide individual and small group coaching resources that help leaders maximize their strengths, correct their liabilities, and make peace with their weaknesses, all while developing others in their organizations.
 
Dr. Ward holds a PhD in Leadership Studies, thinks fountain pens are cool, and jams on the ukulele with his family.